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Reporting the inner-thoughts of dead subjects?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Dick Whitman, Feb 19, 2016.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    I've been reading this book, about the death in competition of elite free diver Nick Mevoli:


    It's very well-written, deeply reported, and a compelling character study. Except something is really bothering me: The writer keeps telling me what the dead subject of his story thought, with no attribution. An example:

    That's when she knew for sure that Nick had feelings for her(.) ... (But) she lived in the real world with a wonderful husband whom she loved and adored and was devoted to. Nick knew that, which is why he never made a pass. ... He would bottle it up, tuck his feelings away, and take the pain. ... They would be friends, he said to himself, all three of them, forever.

    Thoughts? This seems really fundamental to me. The writer has written for the New York Times. I'm not sure if he's a staffer or not. He should know better.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
    YankeeFan likes this.
  2. JohnHammond

    JohnHammond Well-Known Member

    If this article was longform, it would be in BASW or win an APSE.
  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

  4. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

  5. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    In fairness, I think that the NYT probably corrects things that a lot of newspapers wouldn't think twice about.
  6. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    So I guess we're OK with this?
  7. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Some of my favorite reading is good historical fiction, where you may put words (and thoughts) in the mouths of Civil War generals and the like.

    I like that if the writer seems to have captured the essense of the person.

    So I don't really have a problem with the idea. Seems strainger to do it to someone recently deceased, but I assume if they spend a lot of time diving underwater, their would be a lot going through their head and this may be an effort to get at it.
  8. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    No fucking way.

    You referenced historical fiction. Key word: fiction.

    This is ostensibly a work of non-fiction. A work of journalism. It's basically a biography of Nick Mevoli, who is dead. And throughout it, we're getting Nick Mevoli's inner thoughts on every major incident in his life, as well as many minor ones. The writer says in the acknowledgements that he knew Mevoli for a week. Did he talk to him about what he thought on a particular day when he was lobster diving with his uncle? Did he ask him what he was thinking during some mundane date he went on in Brooklyn? Nick never told Ashley that he had feelings for her. Never mentioned it. She strongly suspected it. Why? We're not sure. And yet:

    Nick knew that, which is why he never made a pass. ... He would bottle it up, tuck his feelings away, and take the pain. ... They would be friends, he said to himself, all three of them, forever.

    Did the writer and Nick talk about this during that one week? I guess it's remotely possible. But it's not indicated anywhere. Because those are some pretty specific thoughts attributed to a dead guy based on one married woman's intuition.

    It's not journalism. It's not non-fiction. It shouldn't be presented as such. It's worse than the "Esquire" writer who told us what the Northern Illinois shooter was thinking as he prepared to waste a dozen people on campus. In that case, some defended it by saying it was clear that the lede was fictionalized. Except it must not have been that clear, because prominent writers were on here arguing that the reporter must have had access to leaked video footage.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  9. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    At least I was able to prime your pump, Dick.
  10. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    I appreciate your contribution. I hope others chime in. This seems egregious to me. And yet it's getting good reviews, and no one's noting that he's making shit up. @Double Down gave us a laundry list of #longform's issues on the Holtzclaw thread. Well, this has always been at the top of the list: Making shit up.
  11. SnarkShark

    SnarkShark Well-Known Member

    I don't know enough about this story, but is it possible he talked to me the guy before he died, or did he do all of his reporting after the death?
  12. BDC99

    BDC99 Well-Known Member

    He spent a week with him, as DW notes. Not sure what to think on this. Definitely odd but is a book journalism or do we give poetic license?
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